Boston: 97.6 points allowed/100 possessions (2nd)
Chicago: 97.4 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Probable Bulls starters: Derrick Rose (PG), Keith Bogans (SG), Luol Deng (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Joakim Noah (C)
View from the Opposing Bench: By The Horns
Programming Note: It’s a busy day here at CelticsHub HQ, which necessitates a shorter preview than we would typically post. Not to worry though – the usual longwinded diatribes will return post-game.
Mini-Preview: It should be a playoff atmosphere in the United Center tonight, with the two top contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals battling for playoff position. The Celtics have more at risk in the standings, where they continue to jockey with Miami and Los Angeles for overall position (the C’s are a half game behind L.A. and a half game ahead of Miami).
For the Bulls, the game is a chance to validate their superiority over the Eastern Conference, at least in the eyes of the pundits and fans. Despite the Bulls taking over first in the East, their road to the title still goes through Boston. And there should be legitimate questions about whether a team with Carlos Boozer as its second best player can really run the table in the top-heavy east. Boozer’s a fine player, and Noah may be even better but this team has only one legitimate superstar in Derrick Rose.
The Celtics should be up for this game. Many excuses have been made, and much bandwidth has been consumed in detailing their post-trade slump, but on the back of two straight wins, and with three in their last four, any kind of letdown of effort would be seriously distressing, only a week from the start of the playoffs. Which is to say — expect great energy tonight, and be annoyed if you don’t get it.
These are similar teams in many respects. At their best, they both play staggering defense, as orchestrated by Tom Thibodeau. They both struggle to score, with Chicago’s problems only a shade less severe than Boston’s. So, expect a defensive struggle, where Boston will do anything they can to keep Rose from breaking down their perimeter defense. Everything will flow from that. It’s a lot of pressure on Rajon Rondo, but he should have overload strong side help from the rest of his team if the C’s take Rose as seriously as they should. And a wall of defenders is pretty much the only way to stop Rose, who is one of the very few truly unguardable players in this league, one-on-one.
On the offensive side, the Celtics have to move the ball for open looks. They need crisp screens to free up Ray Allen on curls, Rondo and Paul Pierce breaking down the defense off the dribble and in the pick and roll and Kevin Garnett parking himself on the block and giving Boston and inside presence. A series of Glen Davis perimeter jumpers, Rondo forcing up late-clock jumpers and one-and-done possessions are sure signs Chicago is controlling the game.
Anyway, this should be a dynamite matchup. No matter the result, we should all come out of tonight with our whistles wet for the playoffs.
I’ll see you back here for the post-game wrap.
Boston 89 Chicago 88